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Thoughts on Eagles Pro Bowlers, preparing for DeAndre Hopkins, Eagles-Texans memories | Early Birds

Keys for the Eagles on Sunday, links to all our coverage, and much more.

Eagles tight end Zach Ertz (86) celebrates a touchdown in the second quarter of a game against the New York Giants at Lincoln Financial Field in South Philadelphia on Sunday, Nov. 25, 2018. TIM TAI / Staff Photographer
Eagles tight end Zach Ertz (86) celebrates a touchdown in the second quarter of a game against the New York Giants at Lincoln Financial Field in South Philadelphia on Sunday, Nov. 25, 2018. TIM TAI / Staff PhotographerRead moreTIM TAI

Good morning. The Eagles are back to work today to begin preparing for Sunday’s critical game against the Houston Texans. Doug Pederson has a 10:45 a.m. news conference and Nick Foles will also meet with reporters. The Eagles won’t have a full practice today. Rather, they’ll have a walkthrough at 12:45 p.m.

This is a Wednesday edition of the Early Birds newsletter. I want to know what you think, what we should add, and what you want to read, so send me feedback by email or on Twitter @ZBerm. Thank you for reading.

— Zach Berman

Thoughts on the Eagles' Pro Bowlers

The three Eagles who earned Pro Bowl bids (Zach Ertz, Fletcher Cox, and Brandon Brooks) were all deserving.

Ertz has become one of the NFL’s elite tight ends, and his numbers bear it out. To be over 100 receptions and 1,000 receiving yards at this point would be outstanding even for a wide receiver, much less a tight end. By the end of the season, my guess is he breaks Jason Witten’s record of 110 receptions by a tight end.

Cox has already established himself among the best defensive tackles in the NFL, so his fourth consecutive bid is no surprise. You can quibble that he doesn’t have the production of Aaron Donald -- and that would be correct -- but watching Cox each week and seeing the attention he requires from opposing offensive lines and what he provides to the Eagles defense is all the evidence you need for his standing in the league.

In Brooks’ case, it’s easy to take for granted how important he is on the Eagles offensive line. He’s tough, productive, and durable. it’s hard to quantify the production of offensive linemen. Eagles offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland has said he considers Brooks the best guard in the league.

Malcolm Jenkins, Lane Johnson, Jason Kelce, and Brandon Graham are Pro Bowl alternates this season, according to a league source.

I don’t make as big of a deal as others about “snubs.” Talk to 31 other beat writers and scan 31 other fan bases, and almost every team thinks they have snubs. It’s hard to narrow it down at certain spots, and there’s often a tendency to overrate players you see every week. But if we’re playing that game, I think Jenkins and Kelce have the most compelling arguments. Jenkins gets knocked because he doesn’t record a lot of interceptions, but when you watch him play and see how many roles he fills on the defense, he deserves to be considered among the top safeties in the league. With that said, the alternates usually end up going. And years later, there’s no asterisk next to their names; they’re known as Pro Bowlers, too.

Covering DeAndre Hopkins

Speaking of Pro Bowlers, the Eagles will see one of the NFL’s elite wide receivers on Sunday when DeAndre Hopkins comes to town. He’s a player Eagles fans rarely to get to watch, but if you view him in other games (including the national game last Sunday), it’s clear that Hopkins is a special player. Hopkins, who had 10 catches for 170 yards and two touchdowns against the Jets, has 94 catches for 1,321 yards and 11 touchdowns this season. He’s going to be a tough assignment for the Eagles cornerbacks.

“I think probably the biggest thing that stands out for me is he’s so strong with contested catches,” Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said. “He must have incredibly strong hands and he has a knack for getting the ball. He has some rebounder-type skills in him. …That play he made to win the game or to give them the lead -- not to win the game but to give them the lead, I mean, you can’t cover a guy much better than that. And not only does he high point the ball and he’s strong enough to squeeze it, he’s also strong enough to come down with that ball in his hand. He’s a threat to run after the catch. He’s one of the best receivers in the NFL.”

Eagles-Texans memories

The Eagles play the Texans every four years. Interestingly enough, Nick Foles was the starting quarterback the last time the Eagles played the Texans, too.

It was not a good memory for Foles that day. He broke his collarbone during that November 2014 game. Mark Sanchez relieved Foles, who never returned that season. Chip Kelly traded Foles to the St. Louis Rams a few months later.

The Eagles have had Sanchez, Sam Bradford, and Carson Wentz at quarterback since that game, but Foles is back in the lineup for another meeting with the Texans.

Jason Peters, Jason Kelce, Lane Johnson, Zach Ertz, Darren Sproles, Fletcher Cox, Malcolm Jenkins, and Brandon Graham all remain from that team. Foles and Jordan Matthews have been traded and returned. Chris Maragos is still with the team, but he’s not on the active roster.

The Eagles are 4-0 all-time against the Texans.

What you need to know about the Eagles

  1. The Eagles made adjustments on offense with Nick Foles on Sunday. Les Bowen writes those changes would have benefited Carson Wentz, too.

  2. Don’t get too attached to the Nick Foles story, Mike Sielski warns.

  3. The Eagles have three Pro Bowlers, down from six last season.

From the mailbag...

Can we expect Smallwood to have an even larger role against the Texans? He certainly is well rested and healthy. Also when he is in, the Eagles’ screen pass seems to pick up chunk yards.– Rick, via email

Wendell Smallwood had a good game on Sunday (48 rushing yards, two touchdowns) and will have a role against the Texans, but I don’t see him having a larger role. He played as much as he did in part because Josh Adams was getting evaluated for injuries, but I’d expect Adams to get a bigger chunk of snaps. And when you talk about the screen game, I think Darren Sproles will be used more in that role. With that said, it’s a credit to Smallwood that he’s in the conversation. He’s had a decent season considering he was on the roster bubble during the summer.

“Wendell is a true pro and he is ready when his number is called and he’s really been that way throughout the entire season,” offensive coordinator Mike Groh said. “Not only that, just saying, well, he knows what to do. He’s been really effective, when he’s had the opportunity, he’s made plays and he’s been a reason why we’ve been able to win games. So it’s a real credit to him. He did a great job the other night and obviously getting in the end zone a couple times was huge.”